Ossilegium – The Gods Below Review

I would like to go back to Paris one day. Not for its popularity as a romantic destination, nor especially to see the famous art and architecture it hosts. No, the reason I’d like to go back is to pay a visit to a site I missed when I went as a teenager: the Catacombs. This ossuary, home to the bones of around six million people, is one of the few places you can legally be in the presence of so many skulls, and it sounds incredible. Why are we talking about this? Prior to placing a person’s remains in an ossuary, one must conduct an Ossilegium, which is, literally, a “collecting of bones.” This Ossilegium, “[o]ne of the best-kept secrets of Chicago’s metal scene,” are a duo hoping to come out of the crypt with panache, playing a brand of black(ened death) metal that hearkens back to decades past. No frills, all ferocity. Going for old-school means high expectations for catchiness and bite, if not intrigue. When it comes to The Gods Below, how long will it take for me to start talking about the actual dead sleeping below the ground, over these supposed Gods ov death?

The Gods Below stays trve to its purported authentic style, and its archaic, menacing moniker. Filled with frosty (dis)harmonious “brrrrr”s of tremolo and forward, clanging scale ascents and descents, it alternates between furious d-beat and blastbeat-led charges, and sways of skipping cymbal and drum rollover. Melodic in a muted, afterthought kind of way, outside of some appropriately gnarly soloing, and narrated by barking screams that only rarely deviate into rough growls and higher calls. Other than two short, plucked instrumentals, which absolutely do not need to be there, it’s mean and menacing all the way through. And sometimes it’s rather fun.

The Gods Below by OSSILEGIUM

Ossilegium know how to write a guitar lick. When they go full force with the shivery, spidery scrambles (“Nightborn,” “To Reach the Eternal Ends”) and lightning-strike, crooning soloing (“The Winds of Astaroth,” “To Reach…,” title track) the effect is electric. The duo gallop out of the gate at full pelt with the bombastic “Nightborn,” and fulfill its promise of no-nonsense black metal in the later callbacks to its theme—the ringing chords of “Serpentine Shadows,” and spiraling layered tremolos of “To Reach the Eternal Ends.” But they also show that they’re not only concerned with the savage and the spooky aspects of their home genre, with the warm, mournful solo on “The Winds of Astaroth”—which reminds me of that Dödsrit record from earlier this year—blazing with a fire that makes the rest of the album feel dim, though that on “To Reach…” is a close second. The bounce of rhythmic riffing and d-beating drums (“Constellationrise,” title track) even veers into jauntiness more befitting of Frozen Dawn than that most ovbious of comparators, Necrophobic. Under its superficially simple exterior, there is, sort of, a lot going on, and much promise on display, and it helps when they throw in a ragged scream (“The Winds..,” “Beyond the Clandestine,” “Constellationrise”) to slice across the chords.

The above are the reasons that The Gods Below is so frustrating. Beyond those peaking solos, outside of the flashes of thrilling vigor and vivacity, the music is as grey and cold as its accompanying artwork. Those blazing solos aren’t the only reason so much of the intermediary material seems dull. With repeated, dedicated listens, even the best parts aren’t memorable, so there’s nothing to pull back the listener. Adhering to tradition and an old-school vibe doesn’t have to mean boring and predictable, and yet—highlights mainly excluded—this album is riff-by-numbers blackened death so flavorless and dry I feel thirsty just listening to it. What’s even worse is that the album seems to broadly peter out as it develops, with the best tracks by far (“Nightborn,” “The Winds…”) sitting in the front half, and the later “To Reach…” and title track marred by their bulk being dominated by garden-variety, washed-out, midtempo black metal, plus a few little scale progressions you’ve heard approximately ten thousand times before.

If Ossilegium leaned into any one of the directions they hint at, they could have something very special. The soaring melodicism of “The Winds of Astaroth,” the electric energy of “Nightborn,” or even something uglier, and more menacing. But to remain so firmly in the middle of the road indicates a lack of identity that threatens to bury the young band like so many bones under the Parisian streets. It’s settled, I’m hopping on the first Eurostar over to France to get a proper dose of those Below.

Rating: Disappointing
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Personal Records
Websites: Bandcamp (band) | Bandcamp (label) | Facebook
Releases Worldwide: May 3rd, 2024

The post Ossilegium – The Gods Below Review appeared first on Angry Metal Guy.

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